This is what you’ve been waiting for! The icing on my odyssey cake, for which adventure traveller/backpacker hasn’t dreamt of taking this iconic train? The Trans-Siberian line from Moscow to Vladivostok, completed in 1916, is the longest railway in the world, covering 9,289 km. My journey to Irkutsk, 5185 km, away took four days.
The writer with Svetlana, the friendly Trans-Siberian provodnitsa
Despite the scare-mongering by the hostel receptionist in Warsaw, I still chose to travel in the plaskartny (3rd class) carriage because this is the essence of Trans-Siberian rail travel. You have to bite the bullet and take whatever comes your way, sharing space with 53 other passengers instead of taking the easy way out and travelling in the four-beded 2nd class compartment.
I made several friends onboard, including three Russian women, Marina the accountant who loves to Tango, Svetlana the doll-maker and Lyuba, the retired paediatrician who now travels the world, sharing her skills in the art of quilting. I also met a Parisian, Stephanie who was travelling for three weeks.
I came in fear, thanks for the visions of drunken Russians forcing vodka down my throat but the only drinker in our midst was the gentle giant, Alexander who works for an oil company. He drank himself to a blissful sleep, taking to his bunk like a contented baby until his stop in the middle of the night. Thankfully, Svetlana and Oleg, the provodniks (conductors) were vigilant, waking up passengers before their stop.
Post-doctoral researcher, Svetlana Kholodar helping me put up my curtain
Quilt art by retired paediatrician, Lyuba Lezhanina (photo courtesy of Lyuba Lezanina)
My food ration served me well – Korean ramen (noodles) with a dash of Malaysian prawn sambal. I had tea with some uht pots of milk and also shared my sachets of coffee with some of my new friends.
The Korean ramen, my staple food
Middle-aged Russian women are generally a miserable, racist and ignorant lot. I learned this after my friends had disembarked, leaving me to be bullied. Thankfully a Russian post-doctoral researcher living in the US came on board and rescued me. Of course, as soon as she left the bullying continued. This time, with the women refusing to let me use the sole charging socket in the compartment. Fortunately Svetlana came and took me to her office to use her socket.
Saying goodbye to the last of my Trans-Siberian friends, Svetlana Kholodar
View of the silver birch trees before the Trans-Siberian train passes through the barren steppe
I was ripped off by the Hotel Irkut who charged me the equivalent of £10.00 for a 10-minute taxi ride. I was a sitting duck, I suppose, desperate to get to my hotel safely as I arrived in Irkutsk at 9.00 p.m. and didn’t dragging 30kgs in the dark to search for my hotel.
I staggered up the stairs and sank into bed. With no noodles left I ate some energy biscuits given by my friend, Prof. Hwang from Korea. The biscuits were part of the ration given to Korean soldiers.
READ more about my Trans-Siberian adventures in my article: